Sunday, September 30, 2012

Zen 'teaching' style

A young Brazilian grad student showed up at the zendo this morning. She had sat elsewhere before, so I asked if she wanted to run through the format or would prefer just to sit. She said she would prefer the format, so we did that... how to enter the zendo, bow, cross the legs, what to do with the hands, how to straighten the spine, and how to count the exhalations from one to ten and begin again, etc.

I felt comfortable and I think she did too ... comfortable enough to laugh a bit ... comfortable enough so that tears welled up in her eyes once or twice. I never know what I'm going to say before it comes out, so there was general stuff about Zen Buddhism -- about plain old life -- spliced in here and there ... just the questions people ask themselves when nobody else is looking ... the stuff that feels secret or is kept secret but really is just par for the human course... and how Zen practice might fit in or be useful in that regard.

Cosmic mudra
It wasn't fancy. There was some consideration of how her thumbs might gently touch in a cosmic mudra when her thumbnails were so long. There was a quick hit on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (remind me in my next incarnation to memorize all of them). And I said what I thought, which was, among other things, that without her, something called Buddhism was complete and utter bullshit. I also told her to respect her own interest in Buddhism ... not to be an airhead if it honestly touched her ... and to look forward in her week and find a time when she could promise herself to practice (just once a week) for maybe 15 or 20 minutes ... make a promise, keep a promise. Respect your life.

I probably talked too much (I usually do) but it felt easy and open to me. She seemed not to feel threatened or awed, so perhaps it was easy for her too. Isn't it possible to have a serious conversation without getting solemn? I don't know, but I think so. Solemn seems to be such a waste of energy, quite aside from the fact that it'll hogtie you in the end.

Later, after the Brazilian woman left, I came indoors and watched several YouTube videos of someone who might qualify as a "respected Zen teacher." He is an American living in Japan. He was talking about Zen practice in the videos and he employed that kind of sing-songy, soft-but-imperious tone that Americans can when dispensing deep Buddhist counsel. It is an extremely popular approach, one that is damned near demanded by devoted audiences ... you up there telling me down here what I claim not to know.

As I say, it is very popular and I realized, when watching the videos, that it purely made my teeth itch with irritation. Again ... isn't it possible to have a serious conversation without tipping over into solemnity? And the answer may be, "no it's not" and from that perspective, I will recuse myself from the world of Zen Buddhism. If you want to talk turkey, let's talk turkey, but let's not glaze it with self-imposed goo. What the Buddhists call "suffering" (dukkha, unsatisfactoriness) is turkey in anyone's life and the only question is which tools to employ when addressing that turkey. Love, anguish, anger, confusion, tears and laughter ... pick an approach.

Very popular -- the cadenced and quasi-serene deliveries ... seriously, very popular. And for all I know, effective. But as I watched the videos, I thought, "I can't do that." And then it came to me ...

Oh yes I can!

But I won't.

Once upon a time (and I'm not using this example as some slick-willy-teacher way of claiming to be either equal or unequal to the example), the Zen teacher Huang Po/Obaku stood before his monks and said, "There is no such thing as a Zen teacher." And when one of his monks pointed out the obvious -- that Huang Po was standing before the assembly, teaching -- Huang Po observed, "I said there was no such thing as a Zen teacher. I did not say there was no such thing as Zen."

What's the matter with having a serious conversation?


  1. The faux Buddhist personality and mannerisms of many people can make me irritated. I figure that's as much about me as anyone else though. :-)

    It does seem a bit like people are trying too hard when they do it though. Just be folks.

  2. Al -- Being pals with spiritual endeavor won't work any better than attacking it like a samurai. Either way it will burn your face off and throw you away like a Tootsie Roll wrapper.

    With luck and determination, everyone works through their own phony at their own speed ... it goes with the territory.

  3. Mind which does not allow you to know yourself. so go go beyond it,

    How one does davam/penance/meditation? It means do nothing with mind, keep in the holy feet/thiruvadi of god in our body!!
    How guru helps with his experiance? what is guru sath sath para brahma?

    Open eye , surrender mind to holy feet in our body. Do-nothing with mind. Still the mind. Dont use it..

    Sanathana dharma

    Its about knowing self and god. India was known for this..

    Actual place of Kundalini is not at end of spine... please read this .... Hidden secrets are revealed...

    who is guru? how guru helps? in the way of siddhas

    The meaning of the word deekshai is initiation. When a human does become a real
    human being? If one gets father and mother is not human being!

    Only when he gets guru he is human! With human body, he obtains maturity in the mind, becomes a real human only after getting a gnana guru.

    More details

    God is light, soul is tiny light, one need to know self. You are not body mind, they belong to you. You are soul..
    how to know realize>? Get preaching from guru and take thiruvadi deekshai(holy feet inititaion)
    Kingdom of god is with in, get baptized by light

    More details